Posted in Geek on Thu 24 May 2012 by Andy
It's been twelve years since the last Diablo game, since then Blizzard have become quite a different beast. The success of World of Warcraft and its millions of monthly subscribers, Starcraft 2 with its pro-games tournament domination and the merger with Activision means they are not exactly short of money. Has ten years of development paid off, or were Blizzard distracted over the years by its other big successes?
You probably have an image in your head when you think of a typical World of Warcraft stereotype. Let’s take a guess: fat, lazy, KFC gravy down his top? Ok, what about a Starcraft 2 stereotypes? I’d say Korean, hyper enthusiastic and completely mental. What about a Diablo player though? Well, I think there are three types of players: those that have come in from the other two games, the nostalgia hunters that came from the last two games and maybe a combination of both. As for the stereotype, I’m not sure; bald with a giant metal beard, or is that just one of the characters from the game? Anyway, does the game do enough to settle the cravings of nostalgia but also feel fresh enough to hold interest?
A funny thing happens when a company like Activision Blizzard release a game: no one reviews the game until way after the release. Even then they are scared of giving it anything below a perfect review. I’ve heard this is because if a website such as, let’s take one of the worst offenders, IGN was to give Diablo 3 a bad score, Activision would hold back review copies of their other games. This means they can’t get their review in before everyone else, leading to less click-throughs and subsequently less profit. Since I’m getting no profit I’ll give you the truth of my experiences here. I’ve not actually completed the game - these are just my thoughts so far. I’m also going to gloss over the launch day problems and the fact the game requires an always on internet connection. Everyone knows why these things happened – I’m fed up of hearing about it.
Let me just say first that I like Diablo 3. Its simplicity coupled with ultra-high levels of polish is extremely compelling to me. It’s extremely entertaining and very addictive. You don’t have to put too much thought into it. If it moves, click it. If it drops something, click it. It’s just a giant click’em’up.
You could simplify Diablo 3 right down to its essence very easily. All you’d need is a box displayed on the screen. When you click that box, an item might appear. That item has either: randomly generated stats, a preset name with a set of fixed stats or a combination of both. You keep clicking the box trying to get better items. The more times you’ve clicked the box the better items you might get. The better items you use the better items you can get. That’s pretty much the gameplay right there. Now heap on top a tonne of flourish and brilliantly crisp graphics and animation.
Once you have your items you can trade them or sell them for real money on an auction house. Blizzard, by the way, gets a portion of the real money you make from selling virtual items. They’ve actually figured out a way to control an ecosystem that has its own economy with real world monetary value attached. Effectively Blizzard is printing money from nothing. That is some fiendishly evil behaviour right there.
The thing is there isn’t much to this game other than the items. In the older Diablos you customise your characters with stat points and skill points. That’s been stripped out, now each class of character progresses in exactly the same way each time – no customisation. I can understand why they have done this: no-one likes to mess up a character because they didn’t know what they were doing. In this way your character customisation is done purely with items. The problem is one of dilution though, what feature have they added that makes up for the complexity taken away by the loss of character customisation? I’m not sure yet but I get the feeling that this game is no more complex than Diablo 2. In fact it’s incredibly similar to Diablo 2. Not a bad thing though, I loved that game.
I remember in Diablo 2 when you first head back to Tristram (the town from the first game) and it had all the old characters dead or monsterified. The nostalgia invoked was pretty intense, even though it was only a few years after the original. Diablo 3 is a game that is definitely trading in nostalgia, so why does the revisit to Tristram feel so soulless? I can’t shake the feeling that quite a bit of the games soul is missing either. I’m probably jaded and definitely niggling but the thought has crossed my mind multiple times whilst playing. It’s the little things, like the noise that rings make when they drop – it just isn’t quite right. Where exactly has the ten years of development gone? Hopefully I am yet to find out.
Having said that, the things Blizzard do right are done extremely well. Multiplayer is well thought out, works well, and is a hell of a lot of fun. Battle.net just works (now that the teething issues are over). Cross game chat, well managed friends list, auction house brilliance; it all comes together to make a very compelling treasure hunting game (let’s face it, that’s what Diablo 3 is). Unfortunately the promised PvP feature is not yet included, hopefully that will come later down the line. The real money auction house is also missing for now, I am very interested to see what sort of economy forms around it.
The big reviews for Diablo 3 are coming out now and it’s predictably scoring very high. It’s also the fastest selling PC game ever, selling 3.5 million units in its first twenty four hours – a massive number for a game of its type. I’ve also had chance to play it a bit more and I can say I’m completely hooked.
This game is effectively pixel crack. If you enjoy games of this type (why else are you reading this?), I warn you that if you start you’ll find it hard to stop. I’m currently at level 40, half way through a nightmare run – the second play through. The issues I mentioned in the earlier part of this review have faded in my mind, replaced by a vague blur of “need more stuff”ism.
As your level ramps up things get suitably mental. My characters a Witch Doctor and at this point he’s dousing people with acid, lobbing flame skulls, blowing up pet dogs and summoning hordes of little skull minions. On the nightmare difficulty the enemies get much tougher. Yellow (rare) enemies have abilities to mix things up. These can include things like the ability to freeze you, leave lava in their wake, and connect up to each other with chains that damage to the touch amongst others. These abilities really make life difficult; I can only imaging things get even more hectic at even higher difficulties.
This game doesn’t begin until the second play through. When it does start to get hard, you’ll be so far down the rabbit-hole it’ll be too late. Be warned.